By Shira Schoenberg
The biblical matriarch Leah was the wife of Jacob and the mother of six of the twelve tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Information about Rachel is found in Genesis chapters 29-35.
Leah was the oldest daughter of Laban, Rebekahs brother. The only physical description of her is that she had "weak eyes" (Genesis 29:17) Jacob married Leah because of a trick of Laban. Jacob ran to Haran to escape from his brother Esau. In Haran, Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Leahs younger sister. He reached a deal with Laban that he would work for Laban seven years to marry Rachel. Jacob worked seven years and, at the end of that time, Laban made a feast at which he was to give his daughter to Jacob. Instead of giving him Rachel, however, Laban tricked Jacob and gave him Leah.
Jacob confronted Laban about the trickery and Laban agreed to give him Rachel one week later, provided Jacob would work for him an additional seven years. Jacob agreed, married Rachel, and loved Rachel more than Leah. This hurt Leah and God consoled her with children. Leah was not comforted, however, and named her sons accordingly. Her firstborn was Reuben because "the Lord has seen (in Hebrew raah) my affliction" and "now my husband will love me (yeehabani)"(Genesis 29:32). Her second son was Simeon because "the Lord heard (shama) that I was unloved"(Genesis 29:33). Her third she named Levi in the hope that "this time my husband will become attached (yillaweh) to me"(Genesis 29:34). Only her fourth sons name was not directly connected to Leahs relationship with her husband. She named him Judah because "this time I will praise (odeh) the Lord"(Genesis 29:35).
After Leah had four children, Jacobs next two sons were born to Rachels maid Bilhah. Leah then gave Jacob her own maid, Zilpah, as a concubine. Zilpah gave birth to two sons, Gad and Asher.
One time, during a harvest, Reuben brought Leah some mandrakes. Rachel asked for them and gave Leah the right to sleep with Jacob that night in exchange. Leah subsequently conceived her fifth son, Issachar. She had another son, Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah, before Rachel gave birth to her first child.
After Rachels son, Joseph, was born, Jacob told Leah and Rachel that God had commanded him to return to his homeland of Canaan. They responded that he should do what God told him and they would follow.
The next time Leah is mentioned occurs when Jacob met with his estranged brother Esau. Jacob formed a receiving line of his wives and children, putting the maids and their children first, Leah and her children in the middle, and Rachel and her son at the end.
It is not written when Leah died, but only that she was buried in the Cave of Machpelah. Leah left as her legacy half of the 12 tribes, including Judah, father of the monarchy, and Levi, father of the priesthood.